Editorial: Summer Heat and the Capacity Challenge

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By Olivier Jankovec, Director General, ACI EUROPE

With people and businesses taking to the air as never before, this summer has been extremely busy for Europe’s airports. Many broke their own record in terms of passengers handled in a single day. That was notably the case for London-Heathrow (262,000 passengers on 29 July), Paris-CDG (248,466 passengers on 12 August), Amsterdam-Schiphol (233,000 passengers on 30 July), Dublin (115,800 passengers on 29 June), London- Stansted (101,500 passengers on 24 August), Brussels (96,000 passengers on 30 July), Budapest (54,000 passengers on 30 July) and so on…

While airports have for now been coping with the heat, our Air Traffic Management (ATM) system has not. According to EUROCONTROL, en-route delays have more than doubled in July-August, with the average delay per flight increasing by +192%. Overall, 20% of operated flights were delayed. The main causes were a lack of air traffic controllers & other staffing issues (61%), weather (30%) and strikes/other disruptive events (9%).

This situation has – understandably – put airlines on edge, as the costs of flight delays and cancellations have skyrocketed. But airports are also affected. Delayed flights compromise efficient airport operations, service quality and the passenger experience. Cancellations translate into direct revenue losses with foregone airport charges and commercial revenues. Even more worrying, several airlines have indicated that they will not develop air services in France for now due to the disruption costs caused by continuous ATC strikes in the country. That only means lost business & connectivity opportunities for French airports and their communities.

A lot of this comes down to the failure of the Single European Sky. The flagship EU project has not delivered the intended ATM reform and airspace defragmentation that were expected to boost capacity and reduce costs. While the European Commission is now looking to relaunch the project, I must say I find it difficult to be optimistic. EU States did not seize the opportunity of the Great Recession spurred by the 2008 financial crisis to reform the ATM system. What will make them move now? Will they be willing to challenge the status quo and push for disruptive change in the current political environment? One thing looks certain: engaging with and putting consumers at the forefront of this agenda (rather than the financial impact for airlines and airports) will be key to creating political leverage.

For airports, ATM performance has become ever more consequential. Gone are the days when airports were just sitting passively on the receiving end of the ATM system. With operational and cost efficiency a must, sweating our assets requires getting the most in terms of ATM capacity – as this largely conditions the throughput of our runways. And with the passenger experience at the very core of the airport business model, ATM efficiency and reliability are necessarily part of our strategic planning.

For ACI EUROPE, the underlying agenda is not just about promoting cooperation but also closer integration between airports and Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs). This is why our organisation has taken an active part in the deployment of SESAR, in particular through the work of our SESAR-Related Deployment Airport Grouping (SDAG). This is also why we have been pushing for the Ground Coordinator and Total Airport Management. These operational concepts go beyond A-CDM to link all stakeholders airside and landside – including local transport services to/ from the airport. Beyond that, we need to review the format and governance of our relationship with ANSPs. What guides us in all this is – again – putting the passenger at the core of our operations.

But while renewed attention is now being paid to ATM capacity issues, one should not lose sight of the other side of the equation: airport capacity. ACI EUROPE applauds EUROCONTROL for its excellent Challenges of Growth report, which was released at our Annual Congress & General Assembly last June. As you can read in this issue, this report shows that the airport capacity crunch remains a significant challenge for Europe and its economy. To address this challenge, airports need their license to plan, invest and deliver the infrastructure needed to meet future demand.

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